During Bill Bavasi's tenure as general manager of the Seattle Mariners, the organization made a number of on-field decisions that drew the ire of the team's fanbase and blogosphere. On several occasions, both free agent acquisitions (Carlos Silva, Richie Sexson, etc.) and trades (Ben Broussard, Erik Bedard, etc.) were vocally lambasted by Mariner fans. I am not defending Bavasi: many of his personnel moves were terrible and the team's performance during his administration was ripe for criticism. Still, it was impossible to ignore that the mood surrounding the team was profoundly negative. By the end of 2008, even minor decisions generated considerable vitriol.
Jack Zduriencik has largely escaped a similar fate in Seattle. From big moves to small, most of the current GM's roster decisions have generally been well received. Not every move has been greeted warmly -- hello, Brandon Morrow -- but Zduriencik's initial success and blend of statistical analysis and traditional evaluation methods gave him the benefit of the doubt in the minds of many of the club's more vocal supporters, particularly in the wake of Bavasi's stewardship.
Recently though, it appears that Zduriencik has lost his leeway. Whether this can be blamed on losing records over the last three seasons or the executive's sudden divergence in roster construction tactics, front office decisions seem to be coming under the kind of scrutiny rarely seen around here since Bavasi was in charge. The John Jaso trade was roundly booed and the Raul Ibanez signing universally mocked, to name just two instances from last winter.
The latest controversy is over Blake Beavan and Erasmo Ramirez. Those two, along with Brandon Maurer and Jeremy Bonderman, are battling for the final two slots in the Opening Day rotation. As of this morning, it appears that Ramirez is one of the odd men out. After starting games for much of the spring, Ramirez was sent to the bullpen to work in relief, and now his outings are scheduled to last only a few innings. The logical interpretation is that Beavan will make the Opening Day rotation at the expense of the Nicaraguan, and most pundits and fans won't be happy about it.
To an extent, I understand. Beavan isn't anybody's ideal deckhand. He doesn't strike anybody out, gets a frighteningly scant amount of ground balls, and has essentially been a replacement level pitcher over his forty-one career starts. Ramirez, on the other hand, is a bit younger, throws harder, generates whiffs, and has a more impressive arsenal than Beavan. He also pitched well in limited action last year, posting a 3.35/3.55/3.75 pitcher slash (ERA/FIP/xFIP) in his rookie season. It's not hard to see why fans would like to see Ramirez in the rotation at Beavan's expense.
To me though, the criticism surrounding the idea of Beavan in the rotation is a bit strange, particularly because much of it contains the implication that the front office has determined that the Texan is the superior pitcher. Zduriencik and the rest of the organization's decision makers know that Ramirez is a talented hurler. They wouldn't have brought him to the majors as a twenty-one year old last year if they didn't think he had a world of ability. At the same time, they also have the tools to understand that Beavan has pitched like a AAAA arm throughout his career, as evidenced by his demotion to Tacoma last summer. Beavan may have beaten Ramirez for the final rotation spot out of spring training, but there isn't any reason to think that he will keep his job all year long unless he earns it with his performance.
Besides, keeping Beavan at the expense of Ramirez isn't like downgrading from Adrian Beltre to Chone Figgins. Hypothetically, let's say that the M's decide to stick Beavan in their rotation and ship Ramirez to Tacoma to start the year. Let's also say that Beavan pitches like a replacement level starter while we project Ramirez to accrue 3 WAR per 200 innings (which is probably on the optimistic side). If the Mariners continued this arrangement for two months -- which would be unlikely if Beavan pitched poorly and Ramirez looked like an all-star in Triple-A -- they'd lose a grand total of one WAR over that time period. One win is tangible, but for a team not expected to contend, it's practically negligible.
Furthermore, such a move features the auxiliary benefit of allowing the club to delay Ramirez's arbitration clock while also permitting the team to evaluate Beavan against big league competition again. Pitchers aren't static creatures, and it's reasonable for the Mariner brass to want to see if Beavan's off-season mechanical adjustments help produce any uptick in his stuff during the regular season.
I don't want to make it sound like I'm advocating for Beavan to win a job in the rotation; far from it. I think Ramirez has more upside, and if I were trying to extract every last win I could from this roster, I couldn't make a statistical argument in favor of Beavan. At the same time, there are decent reasons for choosing either pitcher, and I'm more than happy to defer to the judgement of the front office on this issue.
Ultimately, Zduriencik has proved throughout his tenure that he and his front office can assess talent. You or I may not agree with everything he does, and I'm certainly not arguing that the GM is without his faults, but I have a hard time pounding sand in an argument about which back end starter ought to break camp with the big league club. We're not talking about trading the farm system for an injury prone lefty, or signing an innings eater to a $50 million contract. Provided that the right guys end up in the rotation over the long haul, I'm not too worried about who starts out in Seattle's rotation. Ramirez won't be forgotten. Given time, he'll end up in the starting five soon enough.